Monday, April 12, 2010

The Tortoise and the Hare...How to Thrive in Stock Photography

This photo of the Race between the Tortoise and the Hare is a great metaphor for business and for success in whatever endeavor you are undertaking
The Tortoise and the hare, a stock photo that certainly applies to success in stock photography!

The Tortoise Mentality.:How To Thrive In The Stock Photography Business
If you want to thrive in the stock photography business I think it is best to take on a tortoise mentality. You need a thick shell to protect you from all the negative press and commentary that is constantly flying around. But perhaps more important, you need to practice a consistent and deliberate production of content maintained over a long period of time, to create a body of work that will support you.

Billions of Images, Recession, Depression and Common Sense
Sometimes even I get mildly depressed at all the negativity out there surrounding my chosen profession of stock photography. On the one hand, with literally billions of images available, and millions more going up online every year, and thousands of contributors happy to give away their images…well, that is pretty bleak! But sometimes it is necessary to keep faith when the voices all around you are yelling otherwise. I try and review the positives when I feel myself getting too weighed down.There is an enormous amount of money spent on stock photography. There are more buyers of stock than ever. I still make excellent money at stock photography, and still have many sales ranging from the hundreds of dollars to the thousands of dollars every month. We are coming out of the recession and common sense says that sales will pick up. I do good work. I have excellent distribution. I am in a great place and have a good start on improving my position through my web site.

A Sense of Control and Hope For the Future
This brings up an interesting point for me. What does all the work I am doing on my site and with SEO provide me? One big thing is hope for the future. Without hope, without a positive outlook, my production would fall and I would become victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know that the web works for some photographers, and I can see progress, albeit slow, in my own efforts. Knowing that I can go beyond just making images, and actually boost sales through my Internet efforts, gives me a sense of control that really helps me stay productive.

Slow and Steady Production and a Large Body of Work
Another important example illustrated by the old fable of the tortoise and the hare is the slow and steady nature of production needed to succeed in the long-term undertaking that stock photography is. Back in the so called glory days of the early 1990s it took me over five years of constantly adding images to get to the point where I could let go of the assignment work. Now it takes a much larger body of work to sustain you. Too, if you are trying, as I am, to provide images that are well thought out, that illustrate concepts and have staying power, and that require a lot of pre and post efforts ranging from market research to intense Photoshop work, then it takes more time to produce a large body of work.  The good news is that it can still be done. I personally know several photographers, who weren't even photographers a few years ago, who are well on their way to being able to totally support themselves through stock photography.

Encouraging Results and a Lot More Work
Then there is the Internet and SEO work. Originally I thought in a year I would have created a huge amount of traffic. After a year-and-a-half I can see encouraging results, but am now thinking it will be another year…or maybe longer, before I see a truly significant return on my efforts. I am licensing images, selling prints and coffee mugs, sending traffic to my stock agencies, and even pulling in a small amount of advertising revenue through Google Adwords. But to offset the effects of the oversupply of images and the recession is going to require a lot more traffic, and a lot more work to get that traffic. The amount of work required means one has no choice but to take a long-term view.

Uncertain Outcomes and the Certainty of Revenue
Some might question the wisdom of putting a large amount into a project with an uncertain outcome. I would answer that if I am making images for stock that I would be proud to have in my portfolio, then should I decide to go after photography assignments, the time and effort will not have been totally wasted no matter what happens in the world of stock. Too, I know that my images will earn me money. There is some question as to how much, but there is no question about whether they will bring in revenue. As I have mentioned before, I have images created twenty years ago that still bring in income. Back in 1990 when I first started using Photoshop to create stock photography (and to do assignments as well), there were those who said it was too soon. In some ways they were right…it took forever to do things. And yet, as most of those images are still earning money, maybe it wasn’t too soon…and I am certainly glad I had a long-term vision for my stock career!

Be a Tortoise and Not a Hare
So be a tortoise in the sense that you need to protect yourself from negativity in order to stay productive and to do the things that need to be done to get or stay successful. If you have to pull your head into your shell from time to time, so be it. But do keep sticking your neck out as well, putting one foot in front of the other, producing images, getting them into the market, and someday you will find that you have crossed that finish line…and ahead of that hare as well!


Anonymous said...

Excellent Post! Couldn't agree more with what you say here. We started StockShop in 2007 - if we knew then, what we know now. However, we remain flexible, agile and optimistic!

Diane Macdonald said...

Just what i needed to read today, John! Thanks and thanks again!

Jules said...

Great post! Just an idea for a future post: a guest column featuring one of the photographers you mention who has recently started out in micro and is doing well. Kind of a "how I did it" type of story. I would be really interested in that.

John Lund said...


Micro or macro I think that would be a good idea...I will see what I can come up with....



Anonymous said...

Always a good read, John. Regarding SEO, a lot of your writing seems aimed at the fellow photographer. Perhaps more articles aimed at the buyer, maybe showing examples of existing merchandising (of your content) with relevant text would draw in more eyeballs looking to buy, who would end up in your image database. That was my goal with my iStock Buyer Blog.

John Lund said...


Yeah, you are probably right. I have done a little of that, but not with the blog. Did you come to any conclusions on the effectiveness of that approach with your blog?